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The Architect of the Capitol has moved decisively to remove “all newspaper dispensers” along First Street Southeast in front of the Capitol South Metro Station. But the AOC’s decision has taken virtually all affected parties, on the Capitol campus as well as in newsrooms across the District, completely by surprise. And it has left everyone wondering, “Why?”
A public notice from the AOC posted in the area states that “Section 5104(c) to Title 40 of the United States Code prohibits all advertisement on Capitol Grounds. In accordance with this prohibition, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) is hereby issuing this notice of intent to remove all newspaper dispensers located on First Street, S.E. in front of the Capitol South Metro Station.”
The notice goes on to say that the owners of the newspaper boxes have until July 10 to come get them; if they don’t, the AOC will remove them and store them for 30 days. If they’re not claimed by then, they’ll be disposed of.
The notice raises the question: Why now? The dispensers have been a part of the landscape near the station for years. When CQ Roll Call called the telephone number provided by the public notice to find out the rationale for the decision, Cindy Johnson, who identified herself as an AOC representative said, “It’s for security, not anything about advertising.”
When asked why the notice said the action was being taken because of a prohibition on advertising, Johnson said, “We don’t have to put that up there” and reiterated that the decision was made solely for security reasons. She declined to go into further detail.
Shortly after the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, several garbage and recycling bins were removed from Capitol grounds, ostensibly for security concerns. That’s despite the fact that the bombs weren’t detonated from garbage can or recycling receptacles in Boston. But if this week’s decision was made solely for security reasons, it begs the question why the dispensers aren’t being removed until July 10, particularly with the July Fourth holiday ahead, when thousands of people visit the Capitol and its grounds.
Eva Malecki, the communications officer for the AOC, said Johnson was “not authorized to speak on behalf of the Architect of the Capitol.” She was unable to identify Johnson’s role with the AOC.
Malecki said the reasoning for the AOC’s decision was spelled out accurately in the public notice.
She said in an emailed statement to CQ Roll Call: “In answer to your question, as the notice indicates, the Architect of the Capitol intends to remove the newspaper dispensers located on First Street, S.E., in accordance with Section 5104(c) to Title 40 of the United States Code that prohibits all advertisement on Capitol Grounds. The proliferation of boxes has grown significantly over the past several years and some are not affiliated with media organizations, therefore it was determined that the Code would be adhered to following a notification and voluntary removal period ending July 10, 2013.”
When asked if it had anything to do at all with security considerations, Malecki said in a follow-up email, “It has to do with advertising.”
The affected vendors by and large weren’t aware of the impending removal of their newspaper boxes until contacted by CQ Roll Call.
The Capitol press galleries weren’t informed of the AOC’s decision, according to conversations with representatives from the daily and periodical galleries, and first heard about the AOC’s decision from CQ Roll Call.
“We consult with the AOC on a lot of things, and we support them in this decision,” said Officer Shennell S. Antrobus, a spokesman for the Capitol Police.
Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, told CQ Roll Call, “This is the first the city is hearing of this. We’re happy to look into it, but our understanding is that sidewalk is under the jurisdiction of the AOC.”
A person in the business office of The Washington Times said they were unaware of the decision and had no comment on it.
A representative of China Daily said, “Nobody has contacted us,” and expressed surprise that so many dispensaries would be removed. Calls to The Washington Post, Washington Blade and Washington City Paper weren’t returned.
A representative of the Newspaper Association of America said the organization’s public policy team was reviewing the decision but otherwise had no comment.
Attempts to contact representatives at Metro for comment were unsuccessful.